The 2019 Tennis Season in Review
Tsitsipas victorious in London, the big three continue their grand slam dominance and Murray returns – it all happened in the 2019 season. Alex Grant reviews all the action.
Tsitsipas ATP Win
Stefanos Tsitsipas claimed the biggest victory of his career last Sunday as he came from behind to defeat Dominic Thiem 6-7 6-2 7-6 to claim victory at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London.
Tsitsipas came into the event making his debut at the year-end championships and was forced to immediately face the difficulty that comes with qualifying for the prestigious event as he was placed in Group Andre Agassi alongside US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev, last year’s champion Alexander Zverev and 19-time grand slam winner and world number one Rafael Nadal.
Despite defeat to Nadal in his final group match, the young Greek progressed into the semi-finals as the group winner, where he faced six-time champion of the event Roger Federer. In a surprisingly one-sided contest the 21-year-old dispatched the Swiss great with relative ease 6-4 6-3 to book his place in the final.
His opponent was 26-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem who was flying high after back-to-back group stage victories over Federer and Novak Djokovic before a semi-final win over defending champion Zverev.
The final was a tense and tight affair, which at first seemed to be going the Austrian’s way as Thiem claimed the first set on the tiebreak. Tsitsipas bounced back to win the second by a resounding six games to two.
Going into the third both men knew they stood just one set away from the biggest trophy of their respective careers. In a final deciding tiebreak, a Thiem forehand flew wide Tsitsipas fell to the ground in celebration.
Speaking afterwards Tsitsipas discussed overcoming nerves to claim victory: “I was playing with nerves, it’s such a big event. I was a break up in the third set, but couldn’t hold it, but I’m so relieved with this outstanding performance I gave on the court.”
It draws to a close another exciting and thrilling season on the ATP Tour that despite the continued improvements of young stars such as Tsitsipas, Thiem and Medvedev was still dominated by the big three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
How the Season Started
The season kicked off in typical fashion back in January as the best players in the world competed down under at the Australian Open. Despite spirited performances by Stefanos Tsitsipas and Lucas Pouille of France, both were knocked aside with relative ease by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic respectively. This set up a rematch of the historic 2012 Australian Open final between the pair in which Djokovic came out victorious after five hours and 53 minutes of action – the longest slam final in history.
This final promised just as much with Nadal – playing his first event since injury prematurely ended his 2018 season in September – coming into the match looking better than ever having ruthlessly cut down every opponent in his path thus far. Djokovic also booked his spot in yet another final with relative ease.
The final proved a let-down, however, as the step up in class of opponent proved to have come perhaps a little too soon in Nadal’s comeback as he was unceremoniously handed his heaviest ever grand slam final defeat. Djokovic emerged the victor 6-3 6-2 6-3, claiming a record seventh Australian Open crown and a third slam in a row after victory at the previous year’s Wimbledon and US Open.
The biggest moment in Melbourne, however, came earlier in the tournament as former world number one Andy Murray broke down in tears as he revealed in a press conference that it may be the last tournament of his career as a troublesome hip problem looked set to bring his career to a premature end.
Masters 1000 Events
Following Australia the majority of the tour then reconvened again for the start of the Masters 1000 events with the double-header of Indian Wells and Miami up first.
Indian Wells brought its own shocks and disappointments with Novak Djokovic falling to a shock early exit at the hands of German veteran Philip Kohlschreiber. Elsewhere the injury curse struck again for Rafael Nadal as a knee injury sustained towards the end of his quarter-final win over Karen Khachanov forced the Spaniard to withdraw from his hotly anticipated semi-final meeting with old rival Roger Federer.
Despite his clean passage to the title match Federer fell to defeat at the hands of Dominic Thiem who claimed a 3-6 6-3 7-5 victory, his maiden Masters 1000 crown.
This success was short lived, however, as Thiem fell to a shock opening round defeat at the Miami Masters just a few days later.
The Austrian wasn’t the only big name casualty, however, with Djokovic once more sent packing early, this time at the hands of Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut. With Djokovic out and Nadal missing through the injury picked up in Indian Wells, Roger Federer took full advantage racing to victory. He beat defending champion American John Isner in the final 6-1 6-4.
Clay Court Competition
April brought the beginning of the clay court swing and the return of Nadal from injury. Despite being back on his beloved clay he was clearly not his usual all conquering self on the surface as he fell to three straight semi-final defeats in Monte Carlo (l. Fognini), Barcelona, (l. Thiem) and Madrid (l. Tsitsipas).
Both Fognini and Thiem followed up their victories over the Spaniard with wins in the resulting final whilst Tsitsipas lost to Djokovic in the final in the Spanish capital.
With the tournaments coming thick and fast during the season’s unforgiving clay court swing, Nadal had no time to get down on himself and at the beginning of the Rome Masters showed his mental prowess.
“What happened in Monte Carlo happened. And what happened in Barcelona happened. And what happened in Madrid happened. And here we are. We are in Rome,” was the Spaniard’s response to his recent defeats.
This proved defining as Nadal raced to the final, even dispatching his Madrid conqueror Tsitsipas along the way. In the final he produced a statement performance beating world number one Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 to a claim a ninth title in the Italian capital.
It proved the perfect warm-up ahead of the year’s second grand slam at the French Open as Nadal raced to yet another Roland Garros final, dropping just one set in the process.
In the final the 33-year-old once more faced Thiem, having beaten the Austrian in straight sets at the same stage 12 months previous. Thiem came into this match flying high however, having defeated Djokovic in a hard fought semi-final and, despite losing the opening set 6-3, bounced back to take the second 5-7.
With the contest poised at one set all, Nadal stepped it up a level and the Austrian just couldn’t keep up as Nadal raced through the third and fourth sets winning them both 6-1.
Victory left Nadal celebrating a record shattering twelfth French crown – the most wins at a single event in the sports’ long history, beating the previous record of 11 held by Australian Margaret Court.
No sooner did the tour dust the clay off their shoes than they were back on the grass again. And Queen’s club brought with it the return of Scottish superstar Andy Murray – fresh from potentially career-ending hip surgery.
He looked to ease his way back into action by playing doubles with doubles expert, and friend, Feliciano Lopez. It proved an inspired pairing as the duo combined to win the event giving Murray the most incredible of returns to action.
The tour now converged on SW19 dressed all in white ready for another Wimbledon and the tournament did not disappoint. The top three seeds of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal all made it to the final four where Federer and Nadal faced off in their first meeting at the event since their epic 2008 Wimbledon final 11-years previous, with Nadal coming out on top in a match widely regarded as the greatest of all time.
It was Federer’s day this time around, however, as he defeated his long-time rival and friend in four riveting sets to set up a final clash with Djokovic.
And what a final, as the two did battle for four hours and 57 minutes with Djokovic fighting back from two match points down in the final set to win 7-6 1-6 7-6 4-6 13-12, making it the longest men’s singles final in Wimbledon history – ousting the aforementioned 2008 final between Federer and Nadal.
Closing End of the Season
The grass courts done with for another year, it was time for the American hard courts, which kicked off in style for Nadal as he claimed a record-extending 35th Masters 1000 crown in Canada at the Montreal Masters.
A week later, losing Montreal finalist Daniil Medvedev capped off his recent run of great results by claiming a first Masters title winning in Cincinnati.
All of this before the final slam of the year in New York and the US Open threw up its own twists and turns. Defending champion Djokovic lost at the fourth round stage at the hands of Stan Wawrinka with Roger Federer losing in the following round, falling in five sets to Grigor Dimitrov.
The final saw a rematch of the Montreal final played just weeks prior as in-form Medvedev – competing in his first slam final – faced off against Nadal, competing in his 27th.
The difference in years and experience looked to be showing as Nadal raced to an opening two sets lead but it wasn’t to be for long as Medvedev dug deep producing some truly breath-taking tennis taking the next two sets against all the odds forcing the final into a fifth and final set.
Medvedev continued to play tennis of the highest order but Nadal showed his experience and class to produce big shots in the big moments to come out the victor 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4 after four hours and 51 minutes of action.
Victory saw Nadal claim a 19th grand slam crown, moving him just one major title behind great rival Federer’s all-time record of 20.
The penultimate Masters event of the season saw Medvedev once more claim victory, this time in Shanghai where a quarter-final exit for Djokovic was enough to see Nadal return to top spot in the tennis rankings.
Djokovic then returned to form to claim a 34th career Masters 1000 crown with victory at the Paris Masters, moving him just one behind Nadal’s record 35 Masters titles.
And in the middle of all that Andy Murray continued to defy the odds as he claimed his first ATP singles title in over two years with victory over Stan Wawrinka in Antwerp. The Scot is the first man to have returned to the singles tour following hip resurfacing surgery – an operation which has left the Dunblane born star with a partially metal hip.
The top eight of the season then converged on London’s O2 Arena with the year-end world number one ranking up for grabs for both Nadal and Djokovic. Neither man enjoyed the week they would have been hoping for, however, as Djokovic fell in the group stage with one win and two losses. Nadal fell at the same hurdle, despite his two group stage victories, including one over eventual champion Tsitsipas.
Djokovic’s surprise early exit was enough to secure Nadal’s place at the head of men’s tennis as the Spaniard secured his fifth year-end number one crown.
The tour now heads to Madrid for the first edition of the newly formatted Davis Cup before the players will enjoy their winter breaks, ready for it all to start again in January.
Going into 2020 the big three will hope to continue their iron grip on the sport, whilst youngsters like Tsitsipas will hope it can finally be their year to breakthrough and win one of the slams.
Elsewhere Andy Murray will hope to continue to go from strength to strength as he continues to climb his way back up the rankings following his surgery.